Dangerous Minds (1995)
Classroom Conflicts and Dangerous Liaisons
Who are these kids, rejects from hell? - Louanne Johnson
Over the years there have been numerous movies which work around the theme of a new teacher taking over a class of no hopers turning them around. Some have been quite good such as "The Ron Clark Story" others well let's just say they were adequate and then there is "Dangerous Minds". Released in 1995 and featuring Michelle Pfeiffer as an ex-marine turned teacher it is for many one of the better versions of this very familiar story and to be honest it is for me as well. It manages to deliver the grittiness of the situation quite brilliantly whilst also following that almost set in stone path of stereotypical moments, the rebellious kids, the break through etc etc as the list of must have scenes goes on. Although saying all of this it doesn't detract from the inspirational story which is based upon the book "My Posse Don't Do Homework" written by LouAnne Johnson.
Having gone for an interview as a part time teacher, ex-marine Louanne Johnson (Michelle Pfeiffer - Frankie and Johnny) finds herself working full time with a class of the toughest, rebellious teenagers she has ever met. Met with objections by her young class she slowly wins them around but her slightly unconventional teaching methods cause's issues not just with the schools governor but also some of the parents. But as Louanne becomes friends with many of her young class it becomes more personal and less of a job as she strives to give them hope and a chance.
Being one of these inspirational teacher movies "Dangerous Minds" is at its heart straight forwards, the new teacher entering a class full of reprobates, those which are pretty much impossible to teach. As the journey progresses we get the breakthrough where Louanne makes head way with the class but then her teaching methods are shunned by both the school Principal as well as some of the parents. It goes on and many of the elements in "Dangerous Minds" feel like those in any other similar movie.
But then "Dangerous Minds" adds more and most importantly you do get a real sense of Louanne's passion for not just teaching but also for the teenagers in her class. When the realism of their lives outside of school starts to hit home, Michelle Pfeiffer delivers that believability to those moments of hard hitting emotion rather than shying away from it. It is also that willingness to delve into the grittiness outside of school as it covers teenage pregnancy, pride, honour and drug dealing makes it remarkably darker than many similar movies. It's one of the twists which really hits this message home about what life is like for these young men and women on the streets and why it becomes personal to Louanne Johnson to help them have the choice not to follow suit.
Of course in these sorts of movies there is that emotional side and "Dangerous Minds" most certainly has it. As such there is a fine line between delivering true emotion and going too far ending up delivering manufactured emotion. Sadly there are times where "Dangerous Minds" over steps those boundaries ending up feeling too manipulative, as if it is trying too hard to deliver that emotional punch. What is annoying is that it doesn't need to as many of those moments work well and then tail off because it goes one step too far, dragging out a moment longer than is necessary.
Aside from the storyline there are two other notable aspects and one of those is the soundtrack as it starts off with Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" and then following up with a varied bunch of tracks from Bob Dylan's "Mr Tambourine Man" to "Problems" performed by Rappin' 4-Tay. Whilst varied it's a great soundtrack with it help building the scene, the location and surroundings yet elements also emphasise certain points, such as Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man".
The other noticeable element is the performances and "Dangerous Minds" is very much Michelle Pfeiffer's movie delivering a powerful and passionate performance as teacher Louanne Johnson. For the most it's completely convincing although occasionally her accent ends up coming across a little confused. But it is all the young actors who play her class from Wade Dominguez who plays the ultra cool Emilio, through to Renoly Santiago who plays the fiery Raul they are all effective. Although again "Dangerous Minds" does suffer from the occasional actor who is playing a character much younger than they really are.
What this all boils down to is that "Dangerous Minds" is one of the better takes on the inspiration teacher/class of reprobates tale. It follows an almost formulaic storyline but manages to embellish it with some nice additional moments. But more importantly it is believable; the grittiness of home life for the kids feels right whilst also Michelle Pfeiffer's performance as the inspirational teacher is just powerful enough to be inspirational without becoming corny. There have been many variations on this theme, but as it stands "Dangerous Minds" remains not only one of the more memorable but one of the best.
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